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So what is the difference between Basic, B/X and BECMI?

Remathilis

Legend
The Basic D&D sets comes in three revisions: The Holmes (original), the Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert (B/X) and the Mentzer Basic/Expert/Companion/Masters/Immortals (BECMI).

What are the differences between the three? Are they as radically different as AD&D editions are?

It seems that most people who refer to Basic refer to B/X (Moldvay/Cook), and not Holmes or Mentzer/BECMI. I'm curious as to why.
 

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timbannock

Explorer
My experience and understanding is that some spells changed description a little, and I believe maybe a couple levels here and there. Overall, not many differences though.

I don't recall specifics, and no longer own the books, so that may not be very helpful to you. But the important thing is that the differences were minor in my experience. Just some shuffling here or there. BECMI was the most "consistent", but I believe it was summed up and had a couple small tweaks in the Rules Compendium that made it even better.

I don't know many people who DON'T like the Rules Compendium, regardless of what their favorite edition is.
 

Ariosto

First Post
The Holmes edition mainly compiled material from the original D&D set and Greyhawk supplement, plus some bits (e.g., revised spell descriptions) from the AD&D work in progress and a helping of Holmes innovations (e.g., the shorter combat turn).

A notable difference from later Basic sets is that ability score bonuses are mostly just those of the original D&D set, although constitution allows up to +3 per hit die (bonuses still starting at a score of 15). Strength and wisdom simply give XP bonuses to fighters and clerics respectively, and dexterity (besides being the prime requisite for thieves) gives a bonus with missiles. The charisma table was omitted, although effects were suggested.

The intelligence table from Greyhawk was incorporated to determine an m-u's spells known. An interesting twist was that even mages of low level (Holmes treated the first three) could make scrolls.

Elves were described as advancing simultaneously as fighters and magic-users, dividing XP equally, with six-sided hit dice -- a bit of confusion cleared up in later versions. The characters in Module B1 included separate elven fighting men and magic-users, and thieves of all four races; all the clerics were human, though.

Per Greyhawk, thieves had no special ability to find traps, and removal was indicated as applying to "small traps such as poisoned needles". Per the original set, traps by default sprang only on a 1 or 2 on d6.

Alignments were five: LG, LE, N, CG, CE.

There were only 70 kinds of magic item: 7 categories with weighted probabilities, then an equal chance for each of the 10 entries in the category. Swords followed the OD&D convention of adding damage only versus foes against which they got a special, higher bonus to hit. There was no treatment of intelligent swords.

The monster list was quite comprehensive; I'm not sure it left out any from the original set, and there were additions from Greyhawk. Besides the hit dice from that work, the multiple attacks and damage dice were incorporated for monsters -- although all characters' weapons still did 1d6.
 
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Dyson Logos

Explorer
(I'm doing this from memory, because my books are over at my girlfriend's right now - so pardon any mistakes. I also haven't read Holmes basic in YEARS)

Holmes Basic has some material that made it into AD&D1e. Stuff like chance to know spells based on Int for wizards. It also seperates class and race and has 20sp to the gp. There are 5 alignments.

Moldvay / Cook Basic (B/X) uses 10 sp to the gp, combines race and class into one field, and mostly standardizes attribute bonuses. 3 Alignments.

BECMI adds scaling weapon proficiencies, non-combat skills, nerfs the thief skills (because obviously the thief needed to become even less useful), and adds material above level 14 to the game.

While I like the Rules Cyclopedia, I get bummed out every time I see the poor thief skills.
 

rogueattorney

First Post
The Holmes set is really it's own beast. It's halfway between OD&D and AD&D, with a few odd rules that are unique to to it... Basing initiative on Dexterity, the 5-prong alignment chart, etc.

The B/X and the BE portion of BECMI, are pretty much identical, a few different spells, a couple diferences in the saving throw charts, not much else different. Most of the difference are at 7th level or higher. The only real difference in the Basic rules were presentation, with the 1981 rules being concise and straightforward, and the 1983 rules being a tutorial walk through.

Of course, the CMI portion of BECMI contains all sorts of things that weren't in the BX game, not all of them just high level stuff. Depending on to what extent you integrate things like the Mystics and other new classes, Weapon Skills, demi-human attack ranks, the Immortal rules, and so on, into your low-level game, you may have a very different beast from B/X.

The Rules Cyclopedia is basically a compilation of the BECM portion of BECMI. It has most, but not all of the first four boxes. It also has a number of things that were introduced in the Gazetteer series. Most notably, the Non-Weapon Skills. But also things like a more detailed spell research system.

Really, it's all nitpicking. You're going to be able to use anything for D&D written in 1991 for the 1977 set and vice versa.

For being comprehensive, you'd want the RC, even though there are things in it that I think are poorly written (the combat rules), and a lot of stuff that I, personally, would never use in my game. If you're looking for a nice concise well-written set of rules, either the Holmes (1977) or Moldvay (1981) rules will do. And then use the 1981 Cook Expert rules to continue on past 3rd level. (The Cook rules have an opening note for conversion from the Holmes set.) I think the 1983 Mentzer set is best for people who have no familiarity with rpg's at all. It's too scattered to be a good reference for my taste.
 

Dyson Logos

Explorer
I just re-read the Mentzer set last week and I can't believe how bad the layout is and it just feels disorganized and clumsy.

And once again, the poor thieves. Like they needed their skills dropped even lower.
 

Remathilis

Legend
As someone who grew up on Rules Cyclopedia D&D (before moving on to 2e) I wondered how different a beast the older sets were. Specifically, how different they played.

It appears Holmes is a VERY different game and almost qualifies as its own mini-edition, while B/X and BECMI are pretty much the same game with minor numerical differences and the latter having a LOT more stuff so as to fill the 36 levels of play.

Gotta agree with Dyson on thieves; those numbers were pathetic! Then again, thieves usually got shat upon, so...

Interesting. If anyone else has more info or experiences, feel free to share...
 

rogueattorney

First Post
It appears Holmes is a VERY different game and almost qualifies as its own mini-edition...
This might be overstating things a little bit. It certainly has it's own unique quirks, and is neither fish nor fowl as to which edition it is. However, it's perfectly usable with pretty much any D&D product as is closer to the later Basic line of products than OD&D and AD&D were.

Like I mentioned before, the Cook Expert rules had about 3/4 of a page of notes on using it with the Holmes rules. Not really that big a deal. Certainly nothing like trying to use 4e product for 3e.

My favorite is the 1981 rules. They're well-written and concise. It can be run perfectly well as written. It also supports house-ruling all to hell. I also like that it's sort of the mid-point in the rules development, making it even easier to use stuff from from either earlier or later in D&D's developement.

I have used in the past the Mystic from the RC, the paladin from the Greyhawk Supp, the Illusionist from The Strategic Review, spells and monsters from all over the place, a couple 1e concepts in combat, and a couple alternate demi-human classes of my own devise. But right now, I'm playing pretty close to straight out of the book for my informal, "sit yer butt down and play" games.
 

Voadam

Adventurer
Moldvay basic thief skills are all at 20% or less as well except climbing sheer surfaces. Thieves always sucked at their special abilities at low levels.

It is only in the Cook Expert set where they become competent at them.

Having skipped the Mentzer basic and expert sets the shock for me when I got the companion set was that the thief skills were ratcheted down.

I'm currently reading the Holmes set cover to cover and it is . . . different. I haven't read the others in a long while.

Nobody advances in attacks or saves. Fighters can use any armor and get d8 HD. They can use any weapon, but all weapons do a d6 so the wizard is not worse off with daggers (fighters can use bows for further range though). Str does not seem to do extra damage. Fighters still seem the best off because wizards get their one and done spell (though they can make scrolls for 100 gp/level and one week of scribing), thief abilities won't work 80% or more of the time, and clerics only get armor, turning, and d6 HD. Plate mail is cheap enough to be bought with starting gold. Magic missile requires a full attack roll and acts like a +1 arrow. Sleep is the only big gun spell.

Significantly different rules for monsters, they can all see in the dark, dungeon doors work for them unless spiked while players must force them open, their attacks get better with more HD, etc.
 

Dyson Logos

Explorer
Basic D&D Rules Differences (Moldvay vs Mentzer, don't have Holmes on hand)

Moldvay: Cleric turning tables go to Wraiths
Mentzer: Cleric turning tables go to Wights

Moldvay: Magic Users start with 1 spell in their spell books, scrolls cannot be used to add new spells to the spellbook - effectively a magic user has a number of spells known equal to his spells per day.
Mentzer: Magic Users start with 2 spells in their spell books, scrolls can be used to add new spells to the spellbook.

Moldvay: Magic items are rolled on a flat rarity system (equal chance of a +2 sword as a +1 sword), Weapons & Armor are 1 table. Cursed items are included in the tables.
Mentzer: Magic items are rolled witha "rarity" system (8x chance of a +1 sword compared to a +2 sword), Weapons are seperate from armor, +2 dagger and +2 shield added to the lists. Few cursed items on the charts (no sword -1, cursed AC9 armor), replaced with a flat chance that any magic weapon or sword or armor is cursed. Removal of Broom of Flying, separation of Elven Cloak and Elven Boots.

Moldvay: Creatures that appear uniquely here: Acolyte, Insect Swarms, Mediums, Noble, Trader, Veteran
Mentzer: Creatures that appear uniquely here: Human (random classes, equipment & treasure by DM Fiat)

Moldvay: NPC Party has a detailed generation system
Mentzer: NPC Party = PC Party + 1d4 fighters, should be non-hostile

Moldvay: Cave Locust, Driver Ant, Killer Bee
Mentzer: Giant Locust, Giant Ant, Giant Bee

Moldvay: Creatures with a save as a character level 4+ get +2 on saves
Mentzer: Saving throw tables include saves for fighters up to level 12 to look up creature saves for high hit die creatures

While the Mentzer edition has a lot more and more cleanly presented reference charts, the wandering monster tables are far less useful (the Moldvay tables include all the monsters' relevant stats - although there are a few errors in the mix).

And the Mentzer edition has horrendous layout and is very skimpy on art.
 

Ariosto

First Post
A lot of Holmes goes back to the original D&D set, such as all weapons doing 1d6. Other things, such as the hit dice and monsters' attacks, are later developments. Such "Holmes house rules" as initiative by dexterity stem from ambiguities in the seminal text. The roll to hit for magic missile spells is a reasonable interpretation of the original spell description (in Supplement I). The short combat turn is more clearly novel, although I suppose one might derive it from a combination of ambiguous usage of the term "turn" in D&D with the reference to Chainmail (but then 6 seconds would seem more likely than 10). That underworld inhabitants can see in the dark, the peculiarities of doors therein, etc., are also features of the original game.

Exploration movement rates are double those in other post-OD&D editions (including AD&D), reflecting the original game's feature of two "moves" per turn.

(I like the original scheme not only from long familiarity but also because deducting a "move" for various activities -- such as opening a stuck door or deciding which way to go at an intersection -- works in a way that pleases me.)

The mention of running at triple speed also (at least in my memory) stands out as notable, although I think AD&D made similar provision.

The simplified treatment of encumbrance got slightly complicated in later Basic sets. The Holmes version has a "rough and ready" elegance (a curious combination that seems to me quite in the D&D spirit) that stands out from the counting of coin-equivalents in both the Original and Advanced games. Consideration of just how one is carrying one's kit -- rather than a "weight" total -- gets special attention in the text (including an example equipage), and I think quite properly.

So, Holmes is in many ways an introduction to OD&D. Gygax wrote that it offered nothing of significance for owners of the little brown books, but I think that sells short the clarification of some things (especially concerning combat). An error introduced a mixed-up derivation from Chainmail that made daggers the best, and two-handed swords the worst, hand-to-hand weapons in the game -- but a similar rule (for daggers, anyhow) had been used in the Gen Con IX D&D tournament!

Overall, though, I would say that play is very similar to later Basic editions and that one might without too much trouble move on to either Expert Set (or to the Advanced game).
 
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Fifth Element

First Post
Good responses so far, but the most important difference hasn't been mentioned yet: BECMI was the first edition of D&D I played, and therefore it is the one true edition.

Your mileage may vary.
 


Ariosto

First Post
Note that the Holmes BOX cover is in full color; the book itself has a duo-chrome (black and blue) cover, while module B1's is black and green. Also, the UK edition has different illustrations (roughly same subject matter, but distinctive style).
 
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Dyson Logos

Explorer
My ragging on the Mentzer nerf of thieves was misinformed.

He didn't nerf them in the Expert rules revision, he had the same skill progressions there. It was when the Companion rules revised the skill progressions that they got nerfed.

I just read the Mentzer Expert rules for the first time this afternoon. :)
 

Voadam

Adventurer
I read further on the Mentzer initative, combat, and some of the monster sections last night.

Daggers and other light weapons attack twice in a round. Swords and such go once a round, heavy weapons like axes, flails, two-handed swords and polearms go once every two rounds. No advantages for using a heavy over a light melee weapon. Sounds like half of a system there.

Most monsters have little description, orcs are CE humanoids, goblins are LE humanoids, bugbears are sneaky CE giant goblins, hobgoblins are LE giant goblins, kobolds are dwarflike evil humanoids. What do they look like? "humanoid".

Basilisks are small reptilian creatures.

Carrion crawlers only do 8 paralysis attacks, no damage.

Djinnis are neutral and do not grant wishes, though they can conjure stuff like the later spells.

Elves are tougher than dwarves (1+1 vs 1 HD) and do more damage (d10 vs d8). Dwarves have 1 AC advantage though.

Neat system for giant rock throwing, they do damage to areas of effect and you roll two d6s, one for overshooting and one for undershooting, to see how close to their targeted area they get. Giant damage is significantly big.

Hobgoblin (I think it is hobs) elites use gnoll stats but there is no gnoll entry

Hell hounds do 1d6 per hit die on their flame breath, no limits for their breathing listed.

Horses have no attacks.

Hydras have 6 hp per HD and 1 head per HD that does an attack for d6. Every 6 damage and a head is killed, no regeneration. I really like their hydra.

Mummy rot from mummy touch slows healing down to 1/10 normal rate unless a quick cure disease which brings it down to 1/2. Mummy fear paralyzes everyone who misses a save until the mummy touches someone. I forget if they are 1/2 damage or immune to fire but they are not vulnerable to fire as they later become.

Oozes, slimes, jellies, puddings, all still really tough and deadly, most require magic or fire, many with odd specific unexplained immunities.
 
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Voadam

Adventurer
Nobody advances in attacks or saves. Fighters can use any armor and get d8 HD. They can use any weapon, but all weapons do a d6 so the wizard is not worse off with daggers (fighters can use bows for further range though). Str does not seem to do extra damage. Fighters still seem the best off because wizards get their one and done spell (though they can make scrolls for 100 gp/level and one week of scribing), thief abilities won't work 80% or more of the time, and clerics only get armor, turning, and d6 HD. Plate mail is cheap enough to be bought with starting gold. Magic missile requires a full attack roll and acts like a +1 arrow. Sleep is the only big gun spell.
Charm person is also a super effective spell in Holmes, completely under your influence and lasts at least a day before a second save.

The no str bonus though makes the inclusion of the strength spell which only increases your str score very questionable.

Wizards get a huge possible gun in ranged area 6d6 fireball and cold wands. Interestingly many wand and staff things work only on melee hits, such as a sample NPC's wand of petrification.
 
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Dyson Logos

Explorer
I read further on the Mentzer initative, combat, and some of the monster sections last night.

Daggers and other light weapons attack twice in a round. Swords and such go once a round, heavy weapons like axes, flails, two-handed swords and polearms go once every two rounds. No advantages for using a heavy over a light melee weapon. Sounds like half of a system there.
This isn't in the Mentzer edition I read... Are you sure you aren't reading the Holmes edition?

I know that the 2handed weapon rule was changed from the Holmes edition (attacks every other round) to the Moldvay edition (attacks last every round). I can't imagine that Mentzer went back to the Holmes version from the Moldvay version.

Most monsters have little description, orcs are CE humanoids, goblins are LE humanoids, bugbears are sneaky CE giant goblins, hobgoblins are LE giant goblins, kobolds are dwarflike evil humanoids. What do they look like? "humanoid".
Ok, this is definitely Holmes, not Mentzer, since Mentzer & Moldvay only have three alignments, no CE or LE.
 

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